Tips 09 Mar 2018

Amber in archeology

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     Amber is the first ever decorative stone used on a mass scale. He was known, among others, to ancient Greeks, Romans or Egyptians. He even reached the Arabian peninsula and the Far East civilization. From the beginning, he also accompanied the cultures living in the Baltic Sea, which is strongly embedded in the European, and above all, the Polish tradition of jewelery (Broszura Bursztyn Bałtycki [1]; Grążawska, Kowalski, Sukiennicka, 2011).

     Amber, due to its color, smell and remarkable health properties, caught attention already during the Mesolithic times (8,000 - 4,800 BC). In subsequent centuries, it gained popularity, becoming the object of interest of artists, jewelry lovers and traders of the ancient world. In brief, therefore, I will try to present its role in particular cultures.

     In Greek culture, the use of amber touches the beginnings of Aegean archeology and Mycenaean culture. H.Schliemann in 1874, studying the history and culture of this area, he found in tombs more than a thousand amber artifacts (Beck, Southard, Adams, 1972; Czebreszuk, 2013). The infrared spectral spectrometry using the K.W.Beck (Beck, Wilbur, Meret, 1964; Czebreszuk, 2013; Koziorowska, 1984) method allowed to determine that the amber elements found in ancient artifacts belong to the Baltic amber variety. Today, more than 3,500 monuments with elements of amber are known from this area, and they come from the times 1700-1000 BC. First of all, they refer to art connected with religion, or more specifically to the cult of the dead, and therefore the art of sepulchral (Czebreszuk, 2013). The great importance of this mineral in ancient Greek culture can be demonstrated by the multitude of its forms. In the finds we can find both amber-shaped, but also flattened amber, lenticular, barrel and cylindrical amber.

     Their shape and form changed with the passage of time and the changing fashion. Thus, we have ornaments typical of 1700-1400 BC, as well as those from the time around 1000 BC (Czebreszuk, 2013).

     However, amber on the Apennine Peninsula was already known to the Etruscans, and so several centuries before our era (Broszura Bursztyn Bałtycki, [2]). The increase in its importance and the development of trade led to the creation of a trade route originating in the Adriatic Aquileia, ending at the Baltic Sea, called the amber route. At that time, it was a sign of the strength and size of the Roman Empire, at the same time it could have favored the development of culture in the Polish lands. Our ancestors had the opportunity to be with visitors from ancient Rome, get acquainted with their culture and products, among others dishes, spins, or known ceramics "terra sigillata" (De Navarro, 1925; Wielowiejski, 1983). It is not surprising, therefore, that amber appeared in the works of well-known historians and writers of ancient Rome. Even Piliniusz Starszy in "Historii Naturalnej" writes about amber, describing "Wyprawę rzymskiego ekwity po bursztyn" (Kolendo, 1970).

     In the Baltic areas, amber appeared in Neolithic times (more precisely between the 5th and the 2nd millennium BC). From this period, the most common finds are circular and oval pendants, tubular and cylindrical beads, pendants, as well as lumpy solids with a V-shaped aperture. Amulets in the form of discs with a hole in the middle were also popular. As time passed, amber interest became more and more interesting. In the Bronze Age, the mineral began to combine with glass and bronze elements, and amber art developed (Grążawska, Kowalski, Sukiennicka, 2011). In the first centuries of our era, the Baltic areas were part of the amber route. It is interesting that Poland was a transit country for amber, not only to the west and south of Europe, but also in the following years significant power in popularizing the mineral in the East. For example, from Poland, through Kiev or Lviv, amber reached Turkey and Persia (Daszkiewicz, 1980). At the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century, hidden treasures with amber and Roman denars (coins) were found in Poland today, which confirms the importance of amber in the ancient world and in Polish tradition (Wielowiejski, 1998).

     It is worth mentioning archaeological curiosities that the greatest archaeological discovery of amber was made in Poland. In the area of today's Wroclaw, the so-called "Bursztynowy depozyt z Partynic". Its history goes back to the 1st century BC, and the size of the find is a deposit weighing almost 1,800 kg (Niedźwiedzki, 2014).

     Archaeologists' achievements may prove the importance of amber in archaeological tradition and history. It is through the Polish lands that the most important trade routes of this mineral pass. It is known that this unusual stone has fascinated people from prehistory, and most importantly to this day, it enjoys a constant interest.

Literature used:

[1] Bursztyn Bałtycki. Międzynarodowe Stowarzyszenie Bursztynników. Pobrano ze strony

1. Beck C.W., Wilbur E., Meret S. (1964). Infrared spectra and the origin of amber, Nature 201, s. 256-257.

2. Beck, C.W., Southard G.C., Adams A.B. (1972). Analysis and provenience of Minoan and Mycenaean amber, IV Mycenae. Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 13,s.359-385.

3. Czebreszuk. J. (2013). Aktywność pracowni archeologii śródziemnomorskiej epoki brązu w badaniach nad strefą egejską ze szczególnym uwzględnieniem zagadnienia bursztynu w kulturze mykeńskiej. Folia praehistorica posnaniensia, T. XVIII, s.61-71.

4. Daszkiewicz J. R. (1980). Z historii południowo-wschodniego szlaku bursztynowego (XIV - XVII w.) Slavia Antiqua, t. XXV II, s.253-275.

5. De Navarro J.M. (1925). Prehistoric Routes between Northern Europe and Italy Defined by the Amber Trade, The Geographical Journal, Vol. 66, No. 6, s. 481–503.

6. Grążawska J., Kowalski K., Sukiennicka I.(red.) (2011). Bursztyn złoto Bałtyku. Wystawa ze zbiorów z Muzeum Bursztynu w Gdańsku, Szczecin, Gdańsk: Muzeum Narodowe w Szczecinie & Muzeum Bursztynu w Gdańsku

7. Kolendo J. (1970). Wyprawa ekwity nad Bałtyk w okresie panowania cesarza Nerona. Sprawozdania z Prac Naukowych Wydziału I PAN.

8. Koziorowska L. (1984). Badania nieorganicznego składu chemicznego bursztynu. Archeologia Polski, t. XXIX: 1984, z. 2, s. 207-236.

9. Niedźwiedzki R. (2014). Gigantyczny bursztynowy „skarb” partynicki z Wrocławia. W: Kosmowska-Ceranowicz B., Gierłowski W., Sontag E. (red.), Mat. XXI Seminarium: „Bursztyn. Gemmologia - Muzealnictwo - Archeologia”. Gdańsk – Warszawa, s. 23-26.

10. Wielowiejski, J. (1983). Znaczenie szlaku bursztynowego dla kulturowego rozwoju dorzecza górnej Odry we wczesnym okresie wpływów rzymskich. Przegląd Archeologiczny, vol. 1983, s.175-178.

11. Wielowiejski P. (1998). Skarby i pojedyncze znaleziska monet rzymskich
z bursztynem w kulturze przeworskiej. Światowit 41/Fasc. B, s.407-413.


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